True Artisanship

Perfecting my Spaghetti alla Marinara

I got my recipe from the book Cucino Io, which is a great book filled with great recipes from around the world and which provides a lot of background and historical information related to each recipe.

I enjoy perfecting a dish for many reasons. I like to savor variations of the same recipe, try different adjustments, and find out what works for me and for my family and friends. Adjusting a particular ingredient to our tastes, trying a new one, or removing another often result in great variants that will become our official one. I also like cooking because by using wholesome ingredients I hope to eat well. Finally, I believe in “you are what you eat [and drink, and breath, and wear]” and I love handmade anything.

The original recipe calls for these ingredients:

  1. 350 g spaghetti
  2. 300 g tomatoes
  3. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 1 garlic clove
  5. 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
  6. 1/2 spoon capers
  7. 12 black olives
  8. 2 tablespoons grated pecorino
  9. salt
  10. pepper

First of all, multiply everything by 1.3. I don’t feel like cooking 350 g of spaghetti out of a box of 454 or 500 g. I know that 350 g is the amount of pasta you need for 4 portions, but that really applies to Italian meals that include a solid second dish.

Preparation is as follows:

  1. Boil the tomatoes, remove the skin and dry;
  2. Wash and dry capers
  3. Cook the spaghetti
  4. In a pan, on medium-low heat fry the garlic and remove the garlic;
  5. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to the pan. Cook for 10 minutes;
  6. Just before the pasta is al dente, add olives, capers and minced parsley;
  7. Add everything to a serving bowl and sprinkle the grated pecorino.

When I followed the recipe using the ingredients listed above I felt that it did not include enough tomatoes. I changed the amount to 1.5 kg. and I still feel that it could use more.

I also like garlic, so I leave it in the sauce when it is sauteed. When I don’t have parsley around, I use some from the spice rack. Fresh parsley is definitely nice and I think it is a key ingredient to this recipe.

I have always wondered why a recipe called Marinara does not include anything from the sea. Why couldn’t it call for some anchovies, for example. So when I went to Cava de’ Tirreni and spoke to Vincenzo he said: “yes, I don’t know why it doesn’t call for any fish, I know some people who do add some anchovies, finely minced, at the end.” I have always wanted to try this, but haven’t yet.

The result of this version of the Marinara sauce is far different from what you would think when looking at “Marinara” tomato sauce in the jar at the grocery store. It is far more savory and pleasing. Its delicate taste makes it a favorite and something that can be had often: we space it only 45 days between tries.

Be Sociable, Share!
Our Artisans and Their Products

Leather Roses Video

Yesterday I talked about how hard it was for me to do something as simple as editing and posting a video. Today I was able to complete my project, although I think that I will have to go back and polish things up a bit.

In the video, Gianni describes how he got his inspiration for his line of leather roses. He found out about a technique the Venetians used to make leather masks for use in theater productions and decided to apply it to mold leather. This technique gives leather a permanent shape which is ideal for creating custom shapes. I did not know that by immersing leather in alcohol and drying it the leather will retain the shape you give to it.

I think that Gianni leather roses are really unique and cute and am proud to be introducing them to the American market. I am curious to hear what customers will think: if you have an opinion, please comment below!

Leather roses

Be Sociable, Share!
Marcopoloni, the Tiny Business

Coming Soon: Video with Gianni Describing his New Leather Roses

I thought that it was going to be a lot easier. Last summer we took a few videos of our interview with Gianni and now is the time to post them.

Clearly, I am no longer the tech wizard I thought I was in my twenties. And it took this small project to make me realize that. The project is simple: import the video in the free version of Windows Movie Maker, cut it up in scenes, create a caption for each scene, create the video and post it. How could that take longer than an hour?

Well, for starters, you can not post a Windows video and expect it to play without a plug in, even in Internet Explorer. The most logical thing to do, then, is to import the video in Flash. After one more file conversion, you are ready to go, just publish and post, right? Right, except I did not notice that the video playback control was bigger than the size of the document. This resulted in videos that appeared to be missing the play, volume, and other controls. In reality they were just cropped away when publishing the video.

I ran into a few other snags that caused me to write this blog entry instead of one talking about my new video. Let’s hope that that will come tomorrow!

Be Sociable, Share!
Marcopoloni, the Tiny Business

Dreamweaver is Currently Interacting with a Server

I am trying to code our integration with Fedex web services and I have to deal with “Dreamweaver is currently interacting with a server” all the time. I mean: “ALL THE TIME”. When that is going on I cannot upload files and, in some cases, the entire application hangs… while it waits for the interaction with the server to be complete.

There are days when everything is fine, but now the problem is getting serious. I searched to see if anyone had a valid suggestion, or perhaps Adobe provided one. A lot of people are having the problem but so far I have found no valid suggestions and Adobe is not saying anything about it.

I am following a path in which I am always trying to tell Dreamweaver not to do anything at all, except work as a text editor and FTP files to the server. Unfortunately, I am unable to get that done, so I wonder what my options are. I tried their support site and Dreamweaver CS4 is the only version that does not have an update. I called support and it is not available without a paid plan.  I am too scared to install the software again. I feel that I will end up exceeding the number of licenses I have and will be locked out forever.

The lost productivity is becoming costly. Any suggestions for a cheap and simple HTML editor will be welcome.

Be Sociable, Share!
True Artisanship

Quality Versus Quantity in Workouts

Until a few years ago, it seemed that workouts were all about quantity. A better workout would involve more reps.

Recently, I have started reading and hearing about how quality is perhaps even more important. Instead of doing, for example, as many push ups as possible I should do just as few as one. One very long, and excruciating, push up.

I was surprised by this and a little bit amused by how this seems to support the Handmade Movement view that it is far better to have one quality handmade product than many cheap, low-quality similar items.

Be Sociable, Share!
Our Artisans and Their Products

New Leather Briefcase Buying Guide

Today I finished working on my Briefcase Buying Guide. I tried to think about all the different aspects that can affect a decision to buy a briefcase and I feel that I have only scratched the surface. I also tried to always suggest to keep the user in mind.

As I was writing it I had to do a little research within our records. It was interesting to find out that the most popular colors are dark leather and espresso and to see that black briefcases practically sold only in large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Boston, etc. Yet, our samples are not statistically significant and I had to qualify that tidbit as anecdotal. I feel that what would be helpful would be a complete discussion of leather types. But that is such a broad subject that I am going to have to work on it for quite some time.

If you have any comments, please let me know. I am going to improve the guide as new ideas come up.

Be Sociable, Share!
Marcopoloni, the Tiny Business

Excellent Customer Service – Say What?

The other day a friend of mine asked me for two examples of EXCELLENT customer service experiences that I had, for a project of his. Surely, among the hundreds of phone calls to and e-mail exchanges with customer service reps/sales agents/technical support personnel over the years, I could think of two encounters that would qualify as excellent. So I sat … and thought … and thought some more … and much to my dismay, I couldn’t. Not even ONE. But how could that be?

I was so distraught over this that I decided to analyze it a bit deeper. The answer could lie with any combination of the following:

  1. I am just an obnoxiously snobby person and nothing is ever good enough for me
  2. The quality of Customer Service has been steadily declining
  3. Customer expectations have been steadily rising
  4. I receive excellent service all the time but suffer from selective memory loss

Based on the fact that my friends and family characterize me as being rather patient and even-keeled, and judging on the amount of complaints I hear from others about the service they have received, I dare to say that number 1 is not the main reason as to why I was unable to come up with any excellent customer service experiences. Number 4 above would render this blog post moot, so let’s just assume that my memory serves me well enough for now. That leaves us with 2 and 3.

So, true or false: the quality of Customer Service has been steadily declining.

I don’t think anyone would deny that this is true. With globalization and the development of technologies such as IVR (Interactive Voice Response), you’d be lucky to get a live person to listen to you, much less one that is a native speaker of your language. Note I said a live person to “listen” to you, not to “help” you, because in most cases they are merely a live version of the IVR system – worse, perhaps, as they take longer pauses to process your response, and you can’t exactly curse out the poor chap on the phone for not understanding you.

This level of Customer Service is almost expected of large companies, but what about smaller companies? Small businesses have the perfect opportunity to shine in the Customer Service department, and yet in my personal experience, none have truly seized this opportunity. A case in point: I recently ordered some espresso accessories from an online merchant. Unfortunately, they shipped me the wrong items – OK, it happens, but they are a small company, surely it will be a simple thing to get this sorted out, right? Sadly, the answer was no. 6 days, 2 phone calls, 1 unfulfilled promise to call back, and 0 – that’s right, ZERO apologies later, I still do not have any assurances that they will correct the problem caused by their error. I am sure there are plenty of small companies out there that provide great customer service, but I have not had the privilege of doing business with them in recent years. So yes, Customer Service is going down the tubes, to put it nicely.

But what about the customers? Do we as consumers have unrealistic expectations?

It could be argued that with companies nowadays offering more, like free shipping both ways ( and returns accepted anytime (Nordstroms), consumers have become accustomed to expecting a lot more from their retailers. So is that the problem? If a company does not offer the moon and the stars, are they not considered providers of good customer service? To answer this question, I reflected on my first experience with, the online shoe and apparel retailer who is known for their Customer Service.

Back in 2007, I was in need of a pair of shoes. I found a pair I liked on, and decided to test out their 24-hour support line, low-price guarantee, and free overnight shipping. To my delight, I got all three. I even got an unexpected, if not cheesy, thank-you card from the girl who helped me on the phone. I admit, I was rather impressed (though, I could have done without the card). However, shortly thereafter , Zappos ended their price protection and free overnight shipping policies. Knowing deep down that these policies were unsustainable, I was still disappointed in the realization that what I experienced was merely a great get the word-out customer service policy. I did not include this encounter in my example of excellent Customer Service because I recognized that having impressive Customer Service policies does not necessarily equate to excellent Customer Service.

So yes, the state of Customer Service in this country is declining. And yes, we all have gotten used to some companies offering a lot of freebies, but I think to many, the issue is more than what costs are built in where for the sake of calling something “free”. It’s knowing that you are in capable hands, seeing someone going out the way to help you, the feeling of connectedness – something that is nearly impossible to experience these days in the Customer Service realm.

At least now I feel better knowing why I could not come up with one example of when I experienced excellent Customer Service. It’s not just me.

Be Sociable, Share!
Our Artisans and Their Products

New Life for your Old Wallet

I think about this a lot. A changing lifestyle results in changing wallet needs.

When I became a father, I also went from having to carry four cards (ID, credit card, atm/debit card, and business credit card) to… a lot of cards. But those cards are non essential and get carried around just in case you make an emergency visit at Toys’R’Us and you would like to get that 10% discount.

Then my wife got a CARTA credit card case and I got a bit jealous. Even though snake embossed lilac leather is not my cup of tea in terms of leather styles, whenever she used it I would be wishing I had something like it.

So last month we got the MAZZETTA in stock and I was compelled to do some product testing on behalf of our customers. Here is what I think so far:

  1. I like it: the product looks good, feels good, and it fits in the COLOMBO messenger bag pocket.
  2. My wallet is a lot slimmer, which feels cool.
  3. 12 slots fill up fast. I think that the CARTA has more slots. 12 is good enough for me.
  4. I remembered to carry it! The one time I needed it during the last month I did not forget to carry my COLOMBO.
  5. It’s easy enough to use. It’s not as fast as getting a card out of your wallet, but it doesn’t matter that one time in a great while that you use it.

In conclusion, credit card cases are quite useful and can make a nice companion to your wallet. The drawback would be if you forget to carry it when you need it. I am waiting for that to happen to me.

MAZZETTA Credit Card Sleeve

Be Sociable, Share!
Our Artisans and Their Products

Reflections on what makes a good gift

In my previous post I talked about how well my friends liked the Aldo leather belt I had gifted to them. They all asked me for an additional one of a different color, exactly what I wished for me.

I suspect that we had a few things in common. Not knowing what their belt collections look like, I can only suspect that most of those belts, like mine, lacked at least one of the following:

  • quality leather
  • inspired design
  • attention to details

I am dissatisfied with my black belt, and will make sure to replace it as soon as possible, but my other belts are OK. Yet, now that I have a belt that is superior to the rest of them, it has become my favorite belt and the one that I reach for every day, except when I need to wear a black belt. The same thing must be going on with my family and friends, and this leads me to this conclusion.

A good gift is a gift that is appreciated. Sometimes such a gift can be something for which we don’t feel a need until we experience it.

Be Sociable, Share!
Our Artisans and Their Products True Artisanship

A Dionigi Belt is a Great Gift for Him

Last year we added Vincenzo’s Italian leather belts to our line up. I named my favorite model after my maternal grandfather, Aldo, and made sure to get one in espresso to use both with my jeans and with my brown slacks.

I also gave it as a gift to one of my friends and to two relatives.

It did not take long for me to wish to have a black one as well. Every time I wear my non-Italian-leather, non-handmade black belt it feels really cheap and it has gotten to a point that it is rubbing off on my pants. I will for sure get a black Dionigi belt by Vincenzo on the next gift opportunity. Maybe for Father’s Day.

What really struck me was how every one of the three people to whom I gifted the Aldo belt, complimented me on its quality and asked for another one of a different color. I had never experienced such enthusiastic reception for any of my gifts. More on this in my next post.

The Aldo Italian leather belt. So far, 100% of my gift recipients liked it and asked for more.

Be Sociable, Share!